Minnesota Legislative Update 2020 Session Preview

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

The start of the legislative session is right around the corner. The House and Senate will convene on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. The Senate DFL elected Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) as their new minority leader on February 1. A two-year state budget was passed during the last session, and historically the focus of the even-numbered year is passing a capital investment bill. However, that is not to say the legislature will not attempt to pass a supplemental budget.

The Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) office released their economic forecast on December 5, 2019. The forecast shows a projected $1.3 billion surplus for the remainder of the FY2020-21 biennium. In addition to the $1.3 billion surplus, $284 million was automatically allocated to the budget reserve account. With that allocation, the budget reserve account has met its statutorily defined target. This account is commonly referred to as the rainy-day fund.

MMB’s next budget forecast is due at the end of February. Our full update on the November Forecast can be found here.

Capital Investment

Governor Tim Walz (DFL) released a $2.028 billion capital budget proposal on January 15, 2020. Dubbed the “Local Jobs and Project Plan,” the Governor’s proposal prioritized affordable housing, water infrastructure, higher education, public safety and quality of life projects. MMB Commissioner Myron Frans reported that the amount of all bonding project requests was $5.3 billion, with state projects totaling $4.0 billion of this amount and local requests comprising the rest.

The House and Senate Capital Investment Committees will use Governor Walz’s budget as a starting place for crafting their own capital budgets bills. These bills need a three-fifths, super-majority vote in order to pass them, or 41 votes in the Senate and 81 votes in the House.

Leaders in both the House and Senate have said they want to pass a bonding bill this year. House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) has voiced her support for a robust bonding bill. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) has said that passing a bonding bill is a priority, but it must be a “reasonable” size and closer to $1 billion. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) has said that he is interested in passing a bill that is similar in size to past bills, which would be less than $1 billion.

Our full update on the proposal can be found here.

Other Issues at the Legislature

Many issues that will be debated at the Capitol this year will be political.

Clean Energy

Governor Walz and House DFLers have pledged to pass a clean energy bill in the upcoming session. The Senate Energy Committee, chaired by Sen. David Osmek (R-Mound) held a number of hearings in January to discuss their proposal, dubbed Clean Energy First, which is the result of meeting with stakeholders over the interim to provide Minnesota with a framework to get to carbon free. Senator Osmek has indicated that the Senate will move their bill by the end of February.

Data Privacy

Legislation was introduced in the last week of the 2019 session that would change how consumer data is collected, maintained, and used by Minnesota companies. Last year, there was not time for the bill to make its way through the committee process and be debated. We do expect the bill to be thoroughly debated this session.

Emergency Insulin

Both the House and Senate introduced emergency insulin plans during the interim. A work group created by legislative leaders was meeting to work out the differences in the two plans. There was discussion about holding a special session to pass agreed upon legislation, but with no agreement made, a special session was not held.

Employment Issues

Several workplace mandate proposals were debated in the 2019 legislative session including: wage theft, paid family leave, earned sick and safe time, and preemption. Of the four, only wage theft provisions were passed into law. House DFLers have expressed interest in continuing to push and vote on paid family leave and earned sick and safe time again this year.

Gun Violence Prevention Measures

Last session, the House passed two gun safety measures that ultimately were not passed into law. One bill would expand background check requirements to include private gun sales. The other would allow law enforcement to petition a civil court if they can prove a person is in crisis and is a danger to themselves or others. The Senate held informational hearings on these bills in January, but no action is expected during session. The House will continue to push for the bills.

Marijuana Legalization

The House DFL, led by Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), has held over a dozen listening sessions across the state regarding marijuana legalization. There seems to be a strong interest from the House to discuss and pass legalization legislation this session. There are currently 11 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana. Minnesota is one of 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Governor Walz has indicated his support for legalizing recreational marijuana, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and his caucus would not support the legislation.

Pesticides

Last year, a bill restricting the use of pesticides in the state’s Wildlife Management Areas was debated but failed to pass. Another pesticide bill would have delegated pesticide regulation authority to the cities of the first class. Neither bill was passed in 2019, and House DFLers have expressed interest in pursuing these bills again this year.

Taxes

Governor Walz indicated during the November Forecast briefing that he is open to property tax relief proposals but did not get into specifics. He also stated that any legislation removing the provider tax is not happening. Senate Majority Leader Gazelka argued that the surplus shows tax cuts have worked and it is now time to give the rest back. He indicated he his caucus is considering eliminating social security taxes.

Vape and Tobacco Restrictions

The House DFL and Senate GOP intend to work on legislation to raise the minimum purchasing age of vape and tobacco products to 21. The House DFL is also proposing to ban menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.

Special Elections

There were two special elections held on February 4 to fill vacant House seats. In House District 60A, long-time Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis) passed away on November 16, 2019. Numerous people threw their hat into the ring. The northeast Minneapolis district is considered a DFL stronghold, and DFL Representative-Elect Sydney Jordan could potentially hold the seat for a long time.

Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) announced on November 25, 2019 that he would resign his House seat on December 6, 2019. He cited a desire to work to provide the best life possible and spend more time with his family as the reason for resigning. House District 30A is considered reliably Republican, and Republican Representative-Elect Paul Novotney won handedly on February 4.

Election Day on the Horizon

All 201 seats in the Minnesota legislature will be up for reelection in 2020.

In 2016, former Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) signed a bill into law switching Minnesota from using party-run caucuses to state-run presidential primaries. March 3 is the presidential primary.

Legislative Retirements

The following legislators have announced their intent to retire.

  • Sen. Dick Cohen (DFL-St. Paul)
  • Sen. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights)
  • Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska)
  • Rep. Hunter Cantrell (DFL-Savage)
  • Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal)
  • Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont)
  • Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead)
  • Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul)
  • Rep. Alice Mann (DFL-Lakeville)
  • Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls)
  • Rep. Duane Sauke (DFL-Rochester)
  • Rep. Bob Vogel (R-Elko New Market)
  • Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis)

Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DF-Columbia Heights) has said she will retire from the House and seek Senator Laine’s Senate seat in the fall.

We expect the list of retirements to grow as the legislative session progresses. Those wanting to run for election or re-election must file as a candidate by June 2.

Important Dates

  • February 11: Legislature Convenes
  • February 28: Anticipated February Economic Forecast Released
  • March 3: Minnesota Presidential Primary (Super Tuesday)
  • March 13: First Committee Deadline
  • March 20: Second Committee Deadline
  • April 3: Third Committee Deadline
  • April 3-13: Legislative Recess
  • May 15-16: GOP State Convention
  • May 18: Legislature Adjourns
  • May 30-31: DFL State Convention
  • June 2: Candidate Filing Deadline for 2020 Election
  • August 11: Primary Election Day
  • November 3: Election Day

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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